Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Legislation Would Reduce Number of People With Mental Illness in Jails

"Something is wrong when we use the criminal justice system as a mental health system,” said Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn., left) today at a Capitol Hill briefing. America’s county governments couldn’t agree more.

“Counties across the nation routinely provide services to the estimated two million people with serious mental illnesses booked into jail each year, and prevalence rates of serious mental illnesses in jails are three to six times higher than for the general population,” said representatives of the National Association of Counties (NACo) and the Justice Center of the Council of State Governments (CSG), which organized the briefing.

“The issue affects every county in the nation,” said Rep. Richard Nugent (R-Fla.), a former sheriff of Hernando County, Fla. Nugent is a sponsor of the Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Act of 2013, intended to reduce the number of persons with mental illness in county jails. Franken (D-Minn.) has introduced similar legislation in the Senate.

The legislation would support crisis intervention training for police and diversion programs for offenders, among other measures.

“We need to make a change,” said Judge Steven Leifman of the 11th Judicial Circuit of Florida in Miami and a member of the American Psychiatric Foundation’s board of directors. To further that change, the Foundation, along with NACo and CSG, will convene a summit of county officials and others in 2015 to discuss and disseminate evidence-based solutions.

“Mental health in the justice system is not a partisan issue,” said Franken, urging grassroots support for the pending legislation, which likely awaits further action after the new Congress convenes in January.

"I don’t always agree with Al Franken, but we do agree on this issue,” said Nugent. “I’m optimistic we’ll get this done. It’s important to the people back home.”
For more in Psychiatric News about persons with mental illness in America's jails, see "Judges, Psychiatrists Confer on Handling Mental Illness in Justice System."
--aml (Image: Aaron Levin)


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